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Ravenna looks to get parks program back in the black

By DIANE SMITH Staff Writer Published: June 11, 2017 4:00 AM
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For several years, expenses at the financially struggling Parks and Recreation program have been offset by revenue from the Ravenna Athletic Center until membership started to fall at the R.A.C.

But now, city officials including the two new staff members in charge -- hope a recent boost in R.A.C. memberships are an early sign that things are starting to turn around.

Kathy Hammonds has joined the city as parks and recreation director, and Judy Watkins is the new programming coordinator. They replace Elaine VanHoose, parks and recreation director, and Leslee Keegan, programming coordinator, who were dismissed from their positions last month.

Mayor Frank Seman said the changes in the department were necessary, citing a lack of programming available to residents particularly to seniors in the Silver Sneakers program.

"No senior classes were offered for four months, and then we finally found someone to teach on Mondays only," he said. "We had four senior classes a month. We used to have 24."

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The department, he said, has also been losing revenue for some time. Last year, he said, finances were in the black only because two employees who left the city's ranks were not replaced. However, Seman said, finances were heading back in the red this year.

Ravenna Finance Director Kim Cecora said the financial situation in the Parks and Recreation Department has been something the city has been keeping an eye on since 2013, when he presented budget numbers to then-Mayor Joseph Bica.

At that time, he said, healthy membership numbers at the R.A.C., which opened in 2005, were "helping to sustain" what he called "traditional parks and rec" programming, including athletic and dance programs for children and operating the city's parks, which increased in recent years from two to three.

But income from R.A.C. memberships started to fall, with revenue from those fees dropping by $12,981 between 2014 and 2015, and by $15,901 between 2015 and 2016.

At the same time, revenue from program fees were starting to plunge, dropping by $55,229 between 2015 and 2016. The Parks and Recreation Department is sustained by two tax levies, one for permanent improvements and another for operating, and tax revenue also dipped in 2015 before rebounding the next year

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And the annual Marlene Watt Memorial Run, which had been held for 13 consecutive years, lost money last year and was canceled this year. That displeased members of the Parks and Recreation Board, including the panel's chairman, Andrew Kluge, who is a runner.

Seman said he hopes the new leaders will help revitalize the Parks and Recreation Department's programming, guided by a survey now being done by Kent State University.

The new staff members are both women with ties to the early days of the R.A.C.

Hammonds served eight years as parks and recreation director in Ravenna, establishing the R.A.C. before leaving the city's ranks in 2008. Hammonds said when she was first hired in 2000, the city was still trying to decide if it wanted to buy the former armory on North Freedom Street when it became available, and she fought to make it a recreation center, which took a few years to get up and running.

Watkins, meanwhile, has served at a variety of recreation centers coordinating programming, and once served as a fitness instructor when the R.A.C. first opened.

Hammonds said R.A.C. memberships have been showing signs of rebounding. On May 1, the R.A.C. had 271 members. In early June, there were 336 members. She said of those 65 new members, 43 joined the fitness center in a single week.

Hammonds also said she plans to step up marketing efforts, starting with one of the department's "signature programs"-- summer day camps, which began June 5. The program, she said, offers 11 weeks of outdoor activities, plus breakfast and lunch, to school-aged children through age 15.

Another returning program is Safety Town, which is offered to students entering kindergarten and first grade. The program will take place June 19 through June 23 at West Park Elementary School.

After leaving her post as a fitness instructor in Ravenna, Watkins went on to do programming at various wellness centers, such as the Sequoia Wellness Center at Northeast Ohio Medical University in Rootstown and The Natatorium in Cuyahoga Falls.

Less than two weeks in her new post, she said, a number of new programs have been offered, such as classes every weekday for Silver Sneakers, and other fitness programs such as boot camp, Pilox, Tabata and "Barre X-Press," which requires a barre to be added to a room at the R.A.C.

Watkins describes Pilox as a combination of pilates, boxing and "a sprinking of dance."

Hammonds said she visited a studio in Los Angeles that used the program and was "astounded."

"It gets you fit," she said.

Seman said he hopes to attract families and people of all ages to the R.A.C.

"I want this to be a family-friendly kind of place," he said.


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